The new director of the New Schools Network – the charity promoting free schools in England – has suggested that the free-school model should be applied in the further education sector.
Writing on the Conservative Home website yesterday, Unity Howard said a “new vision” for education was needed in the next decade – “one with a lifespan that exceeds just one parliamentary cycle”. “And if that vision is to resonate with those who voted Conservative for the first time, then it must centre on social mobility,” she claimed.
Innovation in FE
Highlighting a need for new sponsors and targeted investment in the schools sector, as well as a requirement for the government to build new talent, she said research during the general election in December had revealed that further education was “another pressing concern for new Tory voters”.
She said, however, that while more funding for this sector was “a good first step”, it "will not be enough of itself”. “That’s why the government should use the free school model to bring much-needed innovation into this sector," she argued.
However, Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “We already have a mixed market in FE and it comes in the form of independent training providers (ITPs). ITPs bring plenty of innovation, which is one reason why so many employers and learners engage with them.
“If the government wants a more responsive FE system, it needs to look at the current grant funding arrangements, more procurement and unlocking capital funding for ITPs. The last thing we need is another set of institutions with more funding bias built in.”
Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “There has been a lot of structural change in further education in the last few years, including 64 mergers, two demergers and 22 sixth-form college conversions to academy status.
"There have been 50 new UTCs, hundreds of new providers on the apprenticeship training register and several new National Colleges. The risk with a free-school model for the sector is more organisational change and more underfunded places to study but not the innovation that might really make a difference to disadvantaged learners and small companies."
And in November, prime minister Boris Johnson pledged to invest £1.8 billion in a further education college rebuilding programme. He said the money would, over a five-year period, be used to make sure that the entire FE college estate was in “good” condition.